July 25, 2007 -- A new poll shows a disconnect between parents' general views of childhood obesity and obesity in their own children.
Consumer Reports polled 609 parents of children and teens aged 5 to 17 nationwide. The poll was conducted by telephone in late June.
The vast majority of parents -- 91% -- indicated that being overweight or obese is a problem among children and teens. Nearly as many parents -- 87% -- noted that childhood obesity has become more common.
But when the poll questions hit closer to home, parents' views changed.
More than two-thirds of the parents -- 68% -- said their child was at their ideal weight. Twenty-one percent said their child was slightly overweight or overweight; 10% said their child was underweight, and 1% said they didn't know.
The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.
Checking Children's BMI
The parents also reported their child's height and weight. If they had more than one child, they focused their answers on only one of their children.
Using those height and weight figures, Consumer Reports calculated the children's BMI (body mass index) and checked the BMI data against the CDC's standards for overweight children. The CDC doesn't have a BMI category for obese children and teens.
Based on BMI, 36% of the children were overweight or close to the CDC's threshold for overweight children.
To get more specific, the BMI data show that 19% of the children were at least 20% over their ideal weight, while only 4% of the parents thought so. In addition, half of the parents of children with BMIs indicating overweight thought that their child was at their ideal weight.
In short, some parents apparently underestimated their children's weight status.
Children's Weight, Children's Doctors
The parents were asked if a doctor had suggested weight loss for their child or teen. Overall, 9% of the parents said yes.
Even among parents whose children were more than 20% over their ideal weight, only about half of the parents said a doctor had recommended weight loss for that child.
Consumer Reports didn't check the children's medical records to verify that information. But if the parents are right, some doctors may be talking to parents about children's extra pounds.
The poll also shows that overweight children snacked more, ate fast food more often around the time of the poll, and spent more time in sedentary activities (such as watching TV) than leaner children.
Parents of children with overweight BMI were particularly likely to say they had been overweight as children and frequently go on and off various diets as adults. Studies have repeatedly shown that extra pounds often linger from childhood into adulthood.
Children are still growing and need proper nutrition, and they may be sensitive about their weight. Weight is a touchy topic for many people of all ages, and America's weight gain cuts across all age groups. That may affect what people think is normal, but it doesn't change the CDC's weight standards.
If you're concerned about your child's weight, talk to a doctor -- even if they don't bring up the subject first.